When it was announced that Starbucks was coming to Italy, it was barely noticed. Perhaps it’s because they are busy trying to understand who is going to become their next Prime Minister, or just distracted by the early signs of summer approaching, but no one has been paying too much attention to the fact that Starbucks will finally come to the home of the perfect coffee, Italy.
Francesca Bezzone of L’Italo-Americano the #1 source of all things Italian since 1908 tells us that Starbucks’ love affair with Italy started as far back as 1983, when its executive chairman, Howard Schultz, experienced Italian coffee for the first time during a visit to Milan. Apparently, it was the epiphany he needed to conceive and create what was to become the most iconic and popular coffee shop chain on earth, with 29,000 worldwide and profits of over 4 billion dollars as of 2017. That Starbucks is a successful business is out of the question: it is ubiquitous, it has a huge coffee menu and people like it to grab their morning brew on the go. Thanks to its friendly and relaxed atmosphere Starbucks has become a place to chat, work, study and relax, all under the same roof: whether you are in the US or Britain, Ireland or France, Starbucks is a common fixture, a familiar haven when away from home, a comfy sitting room outside of your own. Yet, Italians may not be so willing to embrace the trend.
As an Italian-American (and Italian citizen) who’s equally comfortable in both countries, I must admit I like Starbucks (but I like Peet’s more); it’s a perfect place to take a break, to a have a quick lunch, have a meeting, or do some computer work. The coffee is good, even though it is so different from what I’m used to in Italy, or would prepare at home (Nespresso).
At the same time, there are a series of considerations about how successful the chain could be in a country like Italy and they do not all depend on the quality of its coffee, nor on the fact Italians will be hardly pressed to drink Americanos and Frappuccinos once the novelty wears off.
When it comes to coffee, Italy is a very traditional country: we sort of mastered the art of making it. Tradition and classical flavors are all we want, proof of it being the relatively small variety of coffees usually available in our cafés: espresso can be lungo, or regular or ristretto, macchiato caldo or freddo and sometimes corretto. Cappuccino can be normal or chiaro and we do have marocchino and a variety of decaf options (ginseng and barley drinks have become quite popular in recent years), but don’t expect much more than that. However, there’s little doubt that Italian coffee remains the best in the world: it’s a typical case of “why should you change or improve something that’s already perfect?” Italian coffee is not a matter of variety, but of extremely high quality: from the selection of the coffee, to the way it’s roasted and brewed, every drop of caffé has to be absolutely perfect. And if you've ever had coffee in Italy you know it pretty much always is.
There is more: we Italians love our coffee ritual the way it is. We love to get our caffé in the same place every morning, while having a chat with the barista and the other customers, whom we end up knowing and befriending because we meet them every day. We like the way we don’t need to say what we want, because the barista already knows it ; we love to read the paper standing at the counter, while having a chit chat with the man or woman beside us, a speck of a friendship that lasts the time it takes to sip our lungo, or slam down an espresso. The café, is a moment of “home” while we are out shopping or on a coffee break. It’s the place we choose to rest just about the time to have a macchiato and a glass of water, where we can forget for a couple of minutes about what goes on outside: a little corner of tranquillity.
This is not to say Starbucks won’t be successful in Italy: younger generations will certainly enjoy the possibility to study there and the free internet access, just as much as youth all over the world do. And many an expat will gladly have a venti caramel macchiato with an extra shot on the go, just for the sake of feeling closer to home. Some Italians may even like to make it a habit of “prendere un caffé da Starbucks” once in while, just for a change. But the point is: it will never become what an Italian caffé is for us.
Schultz declared, when speaking about finally opening in Italy, “we’re not coming here to teach Italians how to make coffee, we’re coming here with humility and respect, to show what we have learned.” Well, Italy’s happy to have been the inspiration, all those years ago, for the creation of such an amazing business, which ultimately helped spread the popularity of coffee around the world. Italy welcomes Starbucks with open arms, with that typical warm and friendly attitude it’s known for. And Italy will gladly and amicably take a look at what Starbucks “has learned” about coffee in more than 30 years of business. Yet, Italians will very likely keep on sticking to its bar dietro l’angolo per un cappuccio e brioche. I certainly will.
Who is that guy in the foreground in sunglasses at Bar Al Todaro?
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.